By Jodi Bryant

It's been ten years since the Jack Morgan Museum opened. Jodi Bryant recalls chatting with the late Hukerenui identity at his life-long stomping ground before the dream eventuated, and takes a look at how it's evolved since.

If Jack Morgan were around to see how his museum has fared he'd be mighty chuffed. The Hukerenui icon spent a lifetime collecting, or as his wife Lorraine called it – 'hoarding' - memorabilia from the area he called home for 97 years and never could have imagined it would all one day end up in a museum bearing his name across the road from his home.

But he got to see it come to fruition just three years before he passed at the age of 97 and, last month, a celebration was held commemorating ten years since the museum opened.

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Born in 1916, Jack lived in Hukerenui all his life and there's not many a local who wouldn't have been familiar with his name and face. As a life member of the Hukerenui rugby club and recipient of Rotary's highest honour, Jack was involved in many aspects of the community. The Hukerenui Hotel played a significant role in Jack's life; his parents leased the hotel and the large family with seven children lived in the cottage alongside the pub. They planned to move when a six-bedroom home was built on a block of land they'd bought. However, just before they moved in one of several tragedies struck.

"My uncle was a bricklayer and building the chimney on our house, and must have had one too many,'' Jack recalled back in 2008. "He went back to work full as a boot and fell asleep in front of the fire on a pile of wood shavings. He escaped but our new house burned to the ground.''

Not long after, Jack's father bought 54.6ha of land in Waiotu Valley, closer to the pub.

"There was once no other access to Whangarei but by stagecoach. Six horses from Kawakawa would come and they'd change the horses here and then carry on to Whangarei.

Then the railway came through so the owner of the pub - old Jack Keatley - got the pub dragged down and across the road by a bullock team so it faced the railway.''

When the 1918 plague - Spanish influenza - broke out people began 'dropping like flies', Jack remembered. "Everything closed - the shops, the schools, the pub.

"Across the road, a Maori person died and my uncle and dad carried the coffin for the family. When they got there they put the corpse in the coffin. My uncle died seven days later and my dad died 10 days later. That left my mother with seven kids under 12.''

Jack had only one memory of his dad.

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"I remember a sing-song around the piano one night. I was two and dad had his arm around me and I remember all the beer bottles lined up along the top.''

Jack's mother continued running the leased pub - back then, mostly frequented by bushmen - for two years before buying a house and, with a community effort, having it carted to the family's land.

"She farmed the land. She used to get out on a horse and plough. All us kids had our jobs to do - even at four-years old - we had a couple of cows to milk.''

Other childhood memories include the discovery of a soda water spring, from where water was carted off to a soft drink factory in Whangarei.

"We kids used to hop down the hill after school and get a bottle of soda water from the spring.''

Jack spent two years boarding in Whangarei while at high school - his only time away from Hukerenui. After that he bought a tractor and went into agricultural contracting with his brother, Fred.

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Fred was sent away during the war but Jack was 'manpowered' to do contracting work around the mid-North on farms left to be run by women whose men were away.

"In the meantime, my mother had died, so that left me with two farms and the contracting work.''

Fred returned in 1943 and took over the original farm, while Jack took over the other farm and continued with the odd bit of contracting. That same year he married Lorraine, known to many as Did, and now 96 – 'I plucked her from the nest', he would say - and they had two daughters.

"I baled hay for 49 years. In the mornings, I'd be milking the cows and when I finished baling, I would head to the pub - Sunday and all. Back then the pub was owned by Jack Keatley, who had a 50-year licence. He was good to us. In the summertime, we'd go and sit on the scoria by the railway track 'cos it was nice and warm on your bum and old Jack Keatley would come waddling down with a flagon.

"I've been around that pub all me life.''

Jack's was a familiar face there right up until his passing and he practically had a bar stool with his name on it. On a Monday, his mate, Clive Smeath, would take him down the road where, between 5.30 and 7.30pm, he'd down his handle and a half-dozen whisky and milks.

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Jack and Lorraine lived in their modest weatherboard home overlooking State Highway One - and Jack's watering hole - for around 45 years. It was there that most of his collection was stored in four sheds, while the overflow was stored in a mate's shed and workshop, and now fills the museum. The museum idea came about after Jack was inspired by a mate's collection.

"I came home and started laying out what I'd gathered over the years. I mentioned my collection to my mate, Bill Bryant, and from there on he's been like a bee with a bum full of honey.''

Bill mentioned to the then Hukerenui Tavern owner Bob McGregor if he'd ever thought of starting up a museum on the adjacent land and the idea went from there. Bob gifted the land and the locals chipped in with the construction of the building. A committee was formed and the dedicated team of volunteers ensured the idea became reality.

The museum opened in 2010 and the collection included a World War One saddle and other horse tack, bricks from the former local brickworks, paraphernalia from nearby mercury mines, oceans of tools and a shed with about 60 stationary engines - mostly in working order.

Jack would make the dash across State Highway One to visit the museum on his modified lawnmower (by removing the blade) and good friend Ennis Francis who is a volunteer and on the Jack Morgan Museum committee remembers he was 'really chuffed' with the museum.

"We had schools visiting and he would come down and talk to them and I do remember one day the kids were asked what they did that morning before school. They answered that they got up, watched tv, had breakfast and either their mother took them to school in the car or they caught the bus.

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"Jack was then asked to tell the kids what he used to do before school. Jack said he had to go outside to chop kindling, light the coal range, make the porridge, go outside and dig carrots and feed the horses, go and help his mum finish milking and then walk, probably two or three miles over the paddock barefoot to school. In the winter, they would have mud up to their knees and they'd have to hose themselves off before they went into class and, if they were late, they'd get the cuts, which is the strap.

"The kids just couldn't understand. They didn't even know what the strap or cane was."

The ten-year celebration was attended by around 120 people who went through the museum looking at both old and new displays before an afternoon tea with speeches at the adjacent tavern.

The speeches revealed that visitor numbers have been trending upwards and it is one of few profitable museums of its size. Overseas visitors were a big part of the market until Covid-19 but now more New Zealanders are calling in since lockdown ended. The volunteer-run museum has around 35 volunteers but is always looking for more.

With around 95 per cent of artefacts deriving from Jack's collection, the museum also has some new displays. Popular ones include a cowshed scene, cream separators, Broomfield's 1940s store and excerpts and photos from the diary of a prisoner of war, donated by his local daughter, for the war display.

Ennis said those attending the celebration were mostly present at the opening ten years earlier and were impressed with how the museum had evolved. She reckons, had Jack been present, he would've been 'blown away'.

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"He would've been a happy man. He was very humble. He was just a good fella, a hard case and he had these wonderful stories – we miss him so much."

While much has changed over the last ten years – Jack, Bill Bryant and Clive Smeath have all passed, wife Lorraine now resides in a rest home, and the Hukerenui Hotel has changed hands – the legacy lives on.